Last week, my husband and I went on a “babymoon” to Los Angeles. We’d been talking about taking a trip to L.A. for a long time and finally decided we’d better do it now. (It’s much easier to travel when the baby is still in utero.)
And why Los Angeles, you ask? Well, Paul spent some time there a few years ago and loved it – the sunshine, the ethnic food, the comedy club scene, the terra cotta roofs. Meanwhile, I lived in L.A. when I was nineteen and twenty (trying to be an actress and all), and I left with the opposite feeling. Back then I was young and poor and spent most of my time either working thankless extra jobs or driving on the clogged freeways to get to the thankless extra jobs. When I lived in L.A., I never ate out or went to clubs or did anything touristy. So this trip was a way for Paul to show me why he loves the smoggy, sprawling metropolis, and for me to come away with a positive L.A. experience.
And I’d say it was successful. On Friday we went to Disneyland, which was cute and fun. On Saturday we walked around in Beverly Hills and Santa Monica. On Sunday we went to Griffith Observatory, hiked to see the Hollywood sign, and visited the La Brea tar pits. We also ate some delicious food. (I had my first ever Iranian rose water ice cream, and man it was amazing!) I still think L.A. is smoggy and traffic-clogged, but it’s got some good things going for it, too.
One thing I wondered was if we should visit my old stomping grounds. Fifteen years ago I lived in a less-than-great neighborhood in North Long Beach, and my memory of it is filled with 99-cent stores, liquor marts, nightly police helicopters, and sketchy dudes wearing bandanas in the park.
“You know,” I told Paul, “I don’t feel the need to go there.”
We were staying in Westwood, near Beverly Hills. We had a rental car, but it would take forever to drive to Long Beach in the L.A. traffic. And once there, then what? It would have been interesting for me to see my old neighborhood, but there wasn’t really anything else to do or see there. (There’s the Carl’s Junior! And there’s the park where the gang member said hi to me!)
“Wasn’t there anything you liked about your neighborhood?” Paul asked me.
“Well… I liked the library,” I said. “And actually, the residential area around the library was really cute. These little bungalows with terra cotta roofs.”
I had forgotten until that moment about how I used to walk two miles to the library at least once a week. No matter where I am, the library is always a comfort to me.
And that’s actually what I want to write about today. Not Los Angeles or gangs in the park. I want to discuss libraries and librarians.
No matter where I live or how long I stay, I always get a library card. If you look at my keychain right now, you’ll see cards from Cape Cod, Seattle, Minneapolis, and Maryland. (I’ve long since lost my Long Beach library card.)
I know that as a writer I should support the industry by buying books, but I’m a cheapskate who reads a lot – the library is an invaluable resource. I check out anywhere from two to ten books a week (both regular and e-books), plus DVDs from time to time. I often tutor at the library, and I’ve used the quiet rooms in various libraries as places to write. I’ve taken advantage of free library wifi, bought books at library book sales, and gone to free movie screenings at the library.
But one thing I rarely take advantage of are the librarians. In these days of electronic check-out, you don’t even have to interact with them at all. Which is too bad, because librarians know a lot about books, and they can be great resources for people like me who read and write.
The other day I happened to notice that it was #AskALibrarian day on Twitter. You could tweet about the types of books you were looking for, and librarians would answer. I had a field day!
For every tweet I sent, I got a couple of tweeted recommendations back. You have no idea how helpful this is. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by the decision of what book to read next, but thanks to the librarians, my to-read list is now packed!
And then it occurred to me, I don’t need it to be #AskALibrarian day on Twitter to get this kind of help… I can just go to the actual library and ask a librarian in person!
My friend Meagan (of Meagan & Eva’s Middle Grade Bookshelf) recently went to the Georgetown library in DC, which has an excellent children’s section. She was looking for possible comps for the middle grade book she’s writing, so she asked the librarian: “I’m looking for recent middle grade science fiction – like Ender’s Game but published in the last ten years.” The librarian gave her a hefty list of suggestions.
“That’s brilliant!” I told her. Why had I never thought of this before? In addition to always needing reading suggestions, I also want to find comps for the book I’m writing. In all my years of taking advantage of the free things the library has to offer, I’ve ignored one of the most valuable resources: the people that work there and spend their days surrounded by books.
So I intend to start talking to librarians more often and seeking out their advice. After all, I need to stock up on books for when the baby comes. Meagan tells me that the constant breast-feeding I’ll soon be doing is a great opportunity to get some reading done!
SOME OF MY FAVORITE LIBRARIES:
Seattle Central Library: This 11-story library made of glass and steel is an example of SUPER cool, modern, eco-friendly architecture. (The building was completed in 2004.) If you’re in downtown Seattle it’s worth touring because this is such a funky, unique, “digital-age” library.
Latter Branch Library in Uptown New Orleans: This library is housed in a gorgeous, neo-Italianate mansion (built in 1907) on famous, tree-lined Saint Charles Avenue. It’s a small library, but I used to love sitting at an antique desk in one of the reading rooms and imagining that I was a rich, turn-of-the-century New Orleanian. Oh, and the book sales take place weekly in the carriage house out back.
Biblioteca Publica in San Miguel de Allende: This library in Mexico offers books in both Spanish and English and was one of the first places in San Miguel to offer free wifi (although I never could get it to work for me). I like this library for its open-air courtyard, adorable café, and small theater that often shows free international films.
The Library of Congress in Washington, DC: Part museum and part research library, this building is BEAUTIFUL inside and out, and houses Thomas Jefferson’s original book collection. (The Library of Congress is also, apparently, the largest library in the world.) In order to get into the research part of the library you need special credentials, but I like peeking in there and seeing all the dark wood and soft lamps arranged in a circle below the impossibly high ceiling. It looks to me like a library out of Harry Potter. Gorgeous.
Brewster Ladies’ Library in Cape Cod, MA: A beautiful little library housed in the home of an 1800’s sea captain (with some modern additions), this library is noteworthy because it was founded by twelve women in 1853. When it first opened, men were allowed to borrow books, but they had to pay more than the ladies. (That rule is no longer in effect.) I used to enjoy sitting in the parlor by the fireplace, pretending that I was a Massachusetts lady with a whaling ship captain for a husband.
The Main Library in Roanoke, VA: This was my first library love: the place where I got my first library card. I remember reading Dr. Suess books here. I remember the day I first strayed from the children’s section into the adult fiction stacks. I remember doing research for high school papers here (using the microfiche machine!) I always thought this was a pleasant building inside, but I used to LOVE climbing on the big rocks outside the library. (Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a picture of the big rocks.)